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Real Life Stories
By: Altine Goings
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DivaScribe caught up with Sharene Wood, the Harlem, New-York native President and CEO of 5001FLAVORS, for a little chin-wag. Pardon us if we are going all American by sounding fly - the smell of success is infectious.

Fashion has always had a large degree of relevance in the entertainment industry as actors, musical artists, and sports stars often become just as famous for their sense of style as for their talent. A famous name, indeed, is a valuable asset.

This is where 5001FLAVORS, with their unique take on custom fashion, collide and fuse with creativity, ingenuity, true artistry, pizzazz, and an ingrained understanding of urban culture to produce truly outstanding apparel for A-list celebrities. Their client list reads a who’s who in the world of R&B, Hip-Hop, Soul, Rap, Nu Soul, NBA, films —  you name it. Indulge us as we name-drop a bit: 50 Cent, Aerosmith, Alicia Keys, Aretha, Bad Boy Entertainment, Sean “P.Diddy” Combs, Brett Ratner, Ciarra,  Chris Brown, DMX, Eve, Fat Joe, Jay Z,  J Lo,  Kanye, Kid Rock, The Jacksons, Jamie Foxx, Kelis, Lil Wayne, Mariah, Mary J, Nas, Nelly,  Neptunes, Ne-Yo, the late Notorious B.I.G, Pharrell Williams, Latifah, Rihanna, Robin Thicke, Shaquille O’Neal, Snoop, Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, the late Tupac Shakur, Usher, Will Smith, and many more. We didn’t want to bore you, so we will stop here.

How did 5001FLAVORS start?
5001FLAVORS started in the early nineties (1992). My partner (Guy), who’s actually the designer, was very much into fashion; he was always customising his own personal wardrobe and was getting a lot of compliments at industry parties. We talked about it and felt that this could be something (a niche) [that we could do]. We got great feedback from various artists and we believed we could actually offer this service to various artists.

Where these celebrity parties?
Yeah, celebrity parties, entertainment industry parties where a lot of athletes, music executives, and musicians went to. The early nineties in New York was sort of the pre-P Diddy era. Puffy was actually an intern working in Uptown Records, which was one of our first projects, so it was like an emerging market. The music industry realised that recording artists needed a more defined look, so we kind of like rode the waves. Music videos were becoming more popular, visuals were becoming as important if not more important than the music. Record labels realised that the video marketing could also tell a story; we saw the need and we just happened to be in the right place at the right time and business kind of took off from there.

Fantastic. So why the name 5001FLAVORS?
The name came from a phrase used in the Hip-Hop culture at that time: “Audi 5000”. So we kind of put a spin on that phrase and came up with 5001FLAVORS, meaning there are so many flavours out there but we are better with the extra topping (softly chuckles). Our early slogan used to be “it ain’t ice cream” but we don’t use that anymore. The name really echoes our diversity in creating different styles and looks. 

Who was your first client and how did this come about?
We had an R&B artist called Eric Gable. What happens when you work on a video or photo shoot is that there are so many opportunities. You know, the photographer, the A&R, the Executive, the Management all have their own external client list. So we had a lot of referral channels available to us that we get from credence. This applied to Puffy whom we knew from Uptown, when he set up Bad Boy Records; we worked with artists signed to his label: Faith Evans, Mary J Blige, Horace Brown, and of course the late Notorious B.I.G., whom we clothed for his entire musical career.

Is 5001FLAVORS looking to diversify its range and make it more high-street and not just for people in the entertainment and sporting world?
We would love to do that, but in terms of our branding and our clientele we are actually doing what we set out to do. Anything else will definitely have to be a clothing line and we are open to that; we just have not met the right partner yet. That is the only way we can reach the masses because we are an exclusive small boutique so to speak.

Tell us a little bit about the business Diva behind 5001FLAVORS, and what drives your passion to succeed in the face of challenges?
Technically my title is President and CEO. I am basically responsible for all the administrative and organisational aspects of the business. Guy Wood is my partner and actually now my husband, [but] we didn’t start off that way. We were business partners for quite a long time before we got married. With 5001FLAVORS, my job is to do everything that he does not handle creatively. I undertake the company’s client relationship-building efforts; I maintain and establish new client contacts, and my duties are ever expanding and critical to the company’s continued success. Loving what you do is very important for success. When you face challenges that are inevitable in any business, it is really up to you to not get stressed about it and let things slide, or ride the wave and be well above water.

Who is Sharene Wood the woman?
I am in my thirties, married for four years. I have a two-year-old daughter (Sidney) and several stepchildren. I was born and raised in Harlem; my long and extended family still lives there. I live in a neighbouring state (New Jersey), but I am still close enough to be part of the New York scene, which I love. I love New York so much; I went to school at Columbia University, and studied sociology. This is really funny: I went to school with the intent of being an entertainment lawyer, however, because I lived directly above the law school and none of those people looked like they enjoyed what they were doing (laughs)…I changed my mind. I spoke to a few law students and did not get great, favourable feedback, and you know what, I thought it might be better to go ahead and get my BA in Sociology since I was already so deep into my degree. 

5001FLAVORS has been in operation close to 20 years now, that would have been a pretty young age to start a business?
Actually, Guy and I started 5001FLAVORS while I was still in college. It really took off and I saw the feasibility of this really growing into something big. 

That was quite brave – you must need a good entrepreneurial mindset to do something like that so young. Would you say that the bravery really came from the fact that you didn’t have anything to lose anyway, so you just went for it?
That’s exactly what it is. I really didn’t have much to lose. I was a young woman in college and it was a great opportunity. And I have always been very organised, could multi-task, and could definitely do what was needed for the business around my college studies. What I didn’t realise — because I didn’t see the bigger picture at that point — was how far and how big things were gonna get. It kind of just exploded, one client becomes five, five becomes ten, ten to twenty, and it spiralled from there. We have collaborated with some of music’s greatest artists and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to be part of this music culture, creating imagery that will always be a part of history. 

Today, nearly 20 years down the line, would you say that you still enjoy what you do?
Oh yeah, definitely. I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. One thing about this industry is that it is very challenging, very fast paced, a lot of deadlines, a lot of quick decisions, a lot of changes — you really have to be on your toes.

Right now, which artist are you working with?
We’ve been doing some work with Flo-Rida; we recently did his red carpet looks for the 2010 VMAs and 2010 Grammys, where he was nominated for an award, and for a bunch of TV appearances including Jay Leno and Jimmey Kimmel. We are always working with a lot of our talented celebrity wardrobe stylists, we’ve been working with NBA players Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony, Usher, Fat Joe, Swizz Beats, Jasmine Sullivan, B.O.B… We do have some direct working relationship with our celebrity clients, but a lot of work comes through our wonderful relationships with various celebrity wardrobe stylists.

You have dressed a lot of Divas: Mary J, Aretha, Alicia, etc. Which of the Divas would you say you really looked forward to working with?
Because we have so many flavours to explore, I don’t really have one particular artist that I preferred working with. I love to work with a wide range of artists and that it’s fascinating. It’s all for the love of music and the entertainment industry which I love.

When you get requests to put something together for your clients, how much input do they have in what you create?
Usually that is something that Guy would handle; he is the creative component for 5001FLAVORS. Often it is a collaboration with the wardrobe stylists and us, and even the client as well. Sometimes our clothes have to be dramatic, a colour or a theme from a director’s video treatment — you know for the scene, set-up, and feelings that they want to convey. So a lot of dialogue is involved; we just deliver the right and best product for what they are trying to convey in the time span allowed. Sometimes we also get a schedule that allows us to plan their outfits ahead of time for each appearance, say for a red carpet, tour, video, or TV appearance.

Who was the last artist you did a tour wardrobe for?
We did some great looks for Ne-Yo for his world tour last year (2009). We also did some looks for Usher in collaboration with another designer wardrobe stylist for his 2010 VMA performance outfit and that of his dancers. Oh, and how can I forget: we also did some fantastic looks for Alicia Key’s last world tour during 2010 and also her video with Jay – Z (“Empire State of Mind”).

On Alicia, if she decides to go on tour with her baby bump, would you be able to do something for her that accommodates her bump?
Well she’s about to have the baby soon, but yeah, we will definitely be able to get something for her in pregnancy. We accommodate all body sizes and a pregnant lady can still look fantastic and sexy.

You’ve said that you’ve worked with Bad Boy Records. Have you also done any work for P.Diddy’s fashion line?
Yes, we have. We have helped customise a few of his outfits for his Sean John fashion shows. We’ve also done a bunch of outfits for him for his annual 4th of July party in the Hamptons (New York). Even now we still do work for some of his artists: we just finished a Rick Ross video. We’ve always enjoyed working with him and his artists. Seeing Diddy grow from intern to mogul is just fantastic. We also get requests from some fashion houses to help customise samples, because our turnaround time is a lot quicker than getting it done overseas.

You also worked with Rihanna in her early days.
Yeah. Her stylist Mariel Haene, who also works with Will and Jada Smith, and 5001FLAVORS worked with her early on.

Any UK artist on your client list?
We would love to work with more UK artists — definitely. I would love to work with artists from different genres of music; that is definitely something we are looking to get into. (5001FLAVORS has, in the past, worked with Aerosmith and Kid Rock.)

As contact is initiated through the wardrobe stylists for the artist, do you always get to know whom you’ve worked with
(Laughs)  Good thing you asked that. We sometimes have what I call “Phantom Requests” which we fulfil and, in most cases, we only get to find out the artist we’ve worked for, say when their video comes out, or when [they appear] wearing it on the red carpet or whatever. But that’ s still good! In so saying, some artists like that exclusivity too, and we try to be discreet if they don’t want information getting out there as to where they got what they are wearing from.

Have you ever had any unsatisfied customers or Diva/Divo tantrums?
Not necessarily. Sometimes the image that people have doesn’t necessarily translate very well on their bodies. A lot of times it is about listening, understanding, and bringing to life that creative vision. And if there are issues, we work on them.

Have you made any great celebrity friends through your work?
The pace in this business is so frenetic and quick turnarounds don’t allow for much bonding. However, Guy and I had a great relationship with the late Notorious B.I.G. He became a really great friend and his death hit us hard personally. I just spoke to Heavy D this morning; he is one of our longest relationships. Fat Joe is also a friend; he was actually at our wedding. Joe grew up in the Bronx, near Harlem. The one thing that I love about this business is the fact that we get to see an artist rise from obscurity to fame and that is fabulous.

We haven’t really heard much about Ashanti recently. Is she trying to take us unaware with some hot new material?
No, we haven’t worked with her recently. We worked with her a lot when Murder Inc. was really hot. We did the “What’s Love” video — you know, when she collaborated with Fat Joe and most of her videos where she worked with Ja (Ja Rule). I hope she does something soon because I love her.

Tell us what work have you got coming up and who are you working with at the moment?
Right now we are doing some work with Jalen Rose (Ex-NBA player); he does some commentary work for ESPN network. We are working with Daddy Yankee, lots of   music producers and executives, and we are doing some looks for Ludacris for events happening in the next couple of weeks, a few unnamed artists for their international tours, Jason Derulo, Alicia Keys, Fabolous.

Having such a blessed and successful life, do you believe in giving back to the community?
Well, one of the organisations I support is Dress for Success. They basically try to equip women who have been out of mainstream society due to a variety of reasons with the tools and a great professional wardrobe and network that they need to successfully transition back into the workplace and have successful lives. I volunteer for their YES (Young Executives for Success) programme. We help fund raise for them.

She lives a challenging life, balancing entrepreneurship, mummy duties, being a wife and a civic member of society. Sharene Wood definitely wears a lot of hats. She is an admirable dynamo. To keep up-to-date with her and what 5001FlAVORS is doing, folks, Shay will be contributing a monthly column in DivaScribe starting December 2010. She will enjoy catch-up sessions with her many celebrity friends — and spill all the dish in her column.

5001FLAVORS is on Twitter, Facebook, and online at www.5001FLAVORS.com.

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